I have two reasons why I chose this subject as the first talk. First, I want to speak about other things besides asana, most of yoga happens outside of the mat. Second reason is that if we want to understand yoga the first thing that we need to understand is the concept of karma, otherwise we can practice asanas for hours every day, do pranayama and meditation but still we will not know for sure why do we do it.
If we ask to random people (yogis and not yogis) what karma is, perhaps 90% of them will tell us that is the consequences or the effects of the actions we commit. The common vision of karma is as a price or a punishment that the universe will give you for your good or bad deeds, when something bad happens to someone we see as evil, we will always hear someone telling “Yeah! It’s the bad karma”. When we take a concept from one religion (in this case Hinduism) and teach it to a person raised in a culture powerfully influenced by an other religion (Jewish-Christianism for the case of the west), the understanding of the concept will be a mixture of the original meaning with some adaptations, for the case of karma the adaptation comes in the form of an emphasis in results, prices and punishments, all concepts on which western ideology is built … but karma does not speak about any of them, the word karma in the east has a complete different meaning.
The word KARMA comes from Sanskrit and means ACTION, WORK. Everything we do is karma, everything we don’t do is karma also (because not doing nothing is an action also). So the first distinction we have to make is that karma is not the outcome, karma is the action, and by action I mean not only those observable ones or the ones that involve other parties, not only those performed by our body, not only those performed intentionally, the briefest and smallest thought is an action, randomly listening to a noise in the street is action, in the yogic definition everything that enters by our senses or comes out as an activity or movement is karma.
The complete definition is as follows: KARMA is everything that comes in by the sense organs (eye, nose, ears, skin, mouth) or goes out throuhg the action organs (hand, leg, reproductive organs, anus, mouth).
The second distinction we have to make is that the relation between ACTION and RESULT is not as direct as the one we usually imagine. Our western society morals are quite Pavlovian (based on crime/punishment and good deed/reward), therefore we would expect always a perfect tracking for causes and effects, but if we examine life carefully we will realize that this perfect line does not exist in most cases, there are many things happening that have no observable immediate effects, this kind of thing we are specially aware of when it comes to other people, sometimes we just find a person that appears to be super successful and accomplished but in our opinion he/she is just a “complete asshole” and we cannot explain to ourselves how can that be possible or even fair. On the other hand, there are many situations we go through in life in which we are not able to trace a cause or a reason to explain it, every time you say “Why me?” or “I don’t deserve this shit!” we are just becoming aware of a failure of the conditioned morals we’ve learned in western society. To connect the hidden dots of this unsolved cases we need to understand KARMA laws.
If we want to understand Karma, first we have to figure out how our mind works, I will try to illustrate it with an analogy, I will compare the mind with something for sure you understand better, a computer. This ultra-complex computer that is equipped with a software named "WHAT TO DO AND WHAT NOT DO TO, THE ULTIMATE GUIDE”, the main functions of this app are:
1)Avoid painful actions (pain in the mind is associated with death)
2)Repeat pleasurable actions (pleasure is the opposite of pain, so by promoting one you erase the other).
The way this software works is with the same flow as any other APP:
INPUT –> PROCESSING –> OUTPUT
1. INPUT: Every time a karma happens, the app will register the information recorded by the sense organs, will make questions like ¿Did it feel good or it hurt? ¿How good was it? ¿How bad?. After this the karma is stored and labeled with a grade.
2. PROCESSING: The app is constantly assesing the possibility for any karma to repeat, every time a new action is about to happen will look in the records for that karma, if is something that happened already in the past, the pleasure/pain grade will be retrieved, if the karma is a new one will retrieve the data of similar ones.
3. OUTPUT: A warning will be generated about the desirability of that action to happen. The warnings come in form of bodily reactions, the intensity of this reactions is proportional to the karma "grade". Probably for a mid level pleasure karma like "eating icecream" the phisical reaction will be your mouth watering, but for a high level pain karma like "the posibility of being bite by a spider" the reaction will not be a mild one, for sure you will be shaking, your hand slapping, and your legs jumping, all this before you even realize what kind of bug is the one walking up your feet.
If we could put in words some of the warnings and advices we get, some would sound a lot like this: "There's a car coming... Get on the side walk", "Something moved behind the bushes, might be a snake... Better go now", "Yes, those street tacos look and smell good... but do you remember what happened the last time to your stomach... Walk away!". Some other would sound like this: “Hey! You look bored darling, you should eat some ice-cream and cheer”, “That bitch Monica is coming with her stupid fake smile!... Turn away!”, “Last slice of pizza... take it! before someone else does”, “You are behaving in such a boring way dude!... you need a drink to loosen up a little”, “Cloudy day again... let’s get some coffee”, “You fought with her again ah?… you need to relax man, some porn may help”, “You are thinking of practicing? You look like you are having fun with that videogame... practice can wait for tomorrow”. As you can see, this app is important because it makes sure you stay alive, on the downside it will also create DESIRE and REJECTION, both concepts considered the enemies to beat in our way to enlightment (this according to most eastern philosophies).
Returning to the KARMA concept, and how it relates with this mind “software”, we can conclude that are moving in an endless cicle. Karma emerges, mind records and evaluates, new karma happens as a result, and the cicle starts again. The final result of this cicle is what we call "behavior patterns", this is what you do everyday in a mostly automatic way. Perhaps is a good moment to start analyzing which kind of karma are you using to self-program your mind.
I have over-simplified the concept intentionally for educational purposes, but now it is the time to say that the way this karmas are stored and accessed by our mind is not always as simple as the “give me more ice-cream” example, and the reason is the amount of input we get and generate, try to count all the impressions you get from your senses in just an hour, you will be so amazed, try to keep track of all the thoughts going through your mind in 5 minutes, I bet you won’t be able to even count them. Now visualize this, every action you do is stored in the mind as info, this info generates new actions, these new actions are stored again as new info, this updated info will have an effect on futures karmas, so if this cycle never stops (until we die) … a single karma can generate tons of new karmas in the future.
Swami Vivekananda in his “KARMA YOGA” book compared karma with the water in the ocean, when we see and hear the majestic ocean will first focus on the big waves hitting the seashore, then if we are good observers we may notice that the small waves behind are the ones that form the big ones, and if we go even further with this meditation, we will realize that those small waves are formed but thousands of tiny water drops, we can understand karma just like that, the majestic ocean is you, the big waves that everyone sees is the those big actions that define you for the rest of the people, things like the job you chose, the friends you keep in your life, the religion or philosophy you practice, your sex orientation and your partner(s) selection, etc., but those big waves people can easily see are not isolated choices you made, those “life choices” you may be proud of or regret are shaped by thousands of small karmas that have happened for every minute since you were born until now, small choices like “watching t.v. or not”, “go to practice today or not”, “having sex with that person or not”, “wake up now or in 5 minutes”, “having that last piece of candy or not”, “start a conversation with that girl you liked or not” are the ones that make you who you are now, the ones that formed your current mindset, the ones that formed the current shape of your body, the ones responsible for your current health status, of your financial situation. Let´s illustrate with another over-simplified example, let’s talk about Jim.
Jim is a 29-year-old male, married a couple of years ago with Jane, he works as a marketing executive for big corporation, she started a small bakery store a year ago. Jim’s job involves a great amount of responsibility and it’s well paid, he visualizes himself moving up the ladder in a couple of years, getting a bigger house and start having children. Jim usually works long hours at the office and returns home around 8 pm after spending one hour in traffic, lately he doesn’t feel like being very active after work his preferred activity is to relax on the couch and watch television, he is spending around three hours watching mostly series. One day while he is watching “Game of thrones” he realizes he is very hungry, so he orders a pizza and obviously enjoys it a lot, just felt so good and relaxing (Netflix and pizza, they are meant for each other), after this, he repeats this exact same action once a week, then after a few more weeks he starts to snack other things during some of the non-pizza days but just when he feels really stressed, one day he finds a couple of beers in his fridge, probably left-overs from the weekend reunion of Jane, good thing it was pizza night, he opened one and called for a peperoni with stuffed crust, opened the other beer for the last slice, he thought he had a long day and deserved it… we could continue telling this story, but it would never end (as karma), we will better take a look at this chart (oversimplified again) with some of the related the karmas that started to take place in Jim’s life.
This is not a dramatization, this sequence of actions really happens to lots of people every day, obviously not overnight, probably for Jim it took months to get all this karma going, but new actions are always happening even if we don’t realize it or aim for it, Jim didn’t. There are three important things we should conclude from this chart.
After Jim’s example there’s not much for me to add. Perhaps if we start seeing life in terms of KARMA we will finally stop asking “Why me?” every time something dislikable happens, we would be putting some good karma moving in our life. We all want to change something in our lives but fail every time, the reason is that we are always trying to change the big things, our objectives are always things like “get fit”, “get a better job”, “get a girlfriend”, “get a better life balance with job and family”, “be happy”, if we understand that those things are results of the small and sometimes invisible karmas we will be putting some action in to those, things like “stop watching TV” or “Go to bed early” are the things that we can for sure succeed at, and are the ones that after a couple of years will give us the big changes we want to see.
“YOGA IS A PROCESS OF REPLACING OLD PATTERNS WITH NEW MORE APPROPIATE PATTERNS”
SHRI T KRISHNAMACHARYA
Let's talk! You can leave your comments and questions